Lenovo and Qualcomm Build An Always-Connected PC To Make A Road Warrior Happy

Lenovo and Qualcomm Build An Always-Connected PC To Make A Road Warrior Happy


I recently had the chance to get the new Lenovo Yoga C630-13Q50 laptop with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 850 System-on-Chip (SOC) to review. It is the first of a second generation of always-connected PCs (ACPC) that Microsoft is promoting to help reinvent the PC to be more usable in an era where more people are using smartphones. The “always connected” feature has added a new twist to my requirements going forward, which I’ll address later.

I have a number of preferences for my work laptop. It needs to have a good feeling keyboard and accurate trackpad. It needs to be relatively light. It needs to fit securely on an airplane tray table. I prefer a crisp HD display, about 13 inches is a good size for use on the road. And, I need at least 4 hours of battery life. These are characteristics most “road warriors” will have in common. Let me describe how this ACPC Lenovo Yoga meets and exceeds my requirements.

Lenovo Yoga C630-13Q50 in paradiseTIRIAS Research

Give me battery life or give me paper!

While I consider 4 hours of battery life the bare minimum, I have on occasion eschewed a more capable laptop in order to get additional battery life. For the better battery life and light weight, I experimented with Microsoft’s original Windows on Arm designs – the SurfaceRT and Surface 2. Both had cramped keyboards and small, low-resolution displays. The SurfaceRT was also constrained in the number and variety of applications the WindowsRT operating system supported – only applications in the Microsoft Store could be loaded, and at the time, the store had very limited selections. Later generations of the Surface addressed many of the issues with the early devices. My standard laptop for the past 3 years has been the 4th generation Microsoft Surface Pro. But, I was still disappointed with the battery life. When I use extraordinary measures (lowering display brightness to minimum, battery optimized power mode), I can get it to last 5 hours, but more often 4 hours of continuous use is the practical limit.

I also tried a cheap 11-inch Lenovo tablet with a detachable keyboard with an Intel Atom processor that provided up to 6-7 hours of battery life, but I had to trade off significantly lower system performance and accept a constrained display, a cramped keyboard similar to the SurfaceRT and Surface 2, and a cheap trackpad all of which made the platform unacceptable for general use.

Simplicity can be a virtue or a curse

I liked the concept of WindowsRT as an opportunity to eliminate a lot of the x86 legacy PC overhead and cruft, with a new Arm platform. Both products were quite useful for Microsoft Office and acceptable browser support. Now, the latest generation of Windows-on-Arm platform has the ability to emulate x86 native code and can run general desktop applications, eliminating the constraint of the Microsoft Store.

Despite the additional freedom to run general desktop programs, I’ve decided my initially testing of the Lenovo Yoga will be in Windows 10 in S Mode (as the laptop arrived) to see if that is still a problem for daily use. In S mode, Windows is a bit like WindowsRT, in that only Microsoft Store apps can be loaded. The Microsoft Store today has a far more complete application offering, even Apple iTunes is available. One app I know Microsoft Store doesn’t carry is Audacity, which we use for recording podcasts (Audacity does work on Jim’s ASUS ACPC running regular Windows Pro).

Always Connected means never needing to ask for the WiFi password

The key point of the ACPC is to be always connected, and to that means having both WiFi and cellular connections, so the PC is not reliant solely on WiFi hotspots. But being always connected can change how you work, as my partner Jim McGregor pointed out in his article.

Jim McGregor enjoying lunch with an ACPCTIRIAS Research

The cellular modem switches seamlessly with a WiFi network, making the transition transparent to the user. It also adds additional security because you leverage the carrier security and don’t have to rely on unencrypted public WiFi connections. And today, additional data only devices can be a minimal additional charge on many cellular carrier’s plans, In Jim’s case it was an additional $25 per month on Verizon.

The Lapability Test

The Surface Pro, and PCs using the productivity tablet form factor, is a good laptop substitute for a regular laptop – most of the times. The Surface Pro is not particularly good at “lapability,” a term coined by ZDnet reporter and Microsoft follower, Mary Jo Foley. The Surface Pro kickstand can slide off the knees (and short tray tables) which can result in the tablet crashing to the ground. The Lenovo Yoga looks like a traditional laptop but has a convertible form factor with a hinge that allows bending the display all the way to the back of the base to form a handheld tablet. You can also “tent” the display to make a tablet stand. I find this combination is the perfect fit for me. I don’t usually use the pure tablet mode of the Surface Pro (I’m not an NFL football coach) unless I’m watching videos. The Lenovo Yoga can perform that task in the tent configuration.

The Lenovo keyboard has a decent feel, with enough travel and is backlit, but there’s no way to get a classic IBM ThinkPad style keyboard in a thin and light laptop. I do find the space bar is a little wobbly, and I’d prefer a little dishing of the key, but the thin space make that difficult. The trackpad is quite good, although my all-time favorite trackpad was/is on the Apple MacBook Air.

One additional lapable benefit of Lenovo Yoga is the use of the Snapdragon 850 mobile SoC. Because of the mobile SoC, there is no fan (and no fan noise) no matter how hard you stress the laptop. And, the underside of the laptop never gets hot.

Bring Me Your Dongles

The Lenovo Yoga has only two USB Type C ports which double as the charging ports, which is fine most of the time. But during this transition from USB Type A connectors to Type C, it may require an investment in Type A-C converter dongles. In addition, with only the two multifunction Type C ports, it’s good to invest in break out adapters that allow connecting to external displays that also allow additional ports. Let me be clear – the move to USB Type C is a good thing. It will eliminate the need for proprietary power bricks and power adapters. It’s just that through this transition, we will have some extra hardware to carry around.

I was also disappointed that there wasn’t an SD card slot for extra memory and for digital camera.

The “S” in S Mode stands for “Sorry you can’t run that software”

Using Windows in S Mode (which was originally called Windows S) is an interesting experiment. In some ways it’s Microsoft’s answer to Apple’s strategy of locked down and safe apps in iOS and a follow up to WindowsRT (although that’s not how Microsoft positions it). If the company approves the applications, it’s likely to be safer and using only Store apps denies the user the opportunity to inadvertently download malware. Additionally, Apple now has iTunes in the Microsoft Store, which was an issue for some people. One of the advantages of a traditional PC (including MacOS) is that you can load any software you wanted, good or bad. I will have an issue with audio processing not having Audacity to use in recording podcasts.

As for browsers, I typically use Microsoft Edge, Google Chrome, and occasionally Mozilla. In S mode, I am limited to Edge. It’s not a hard constraint for me, but I know it’s a deal-breaker for some people.

So far, I have run into one problem with the emulation of x86 applications, even using the store – the benchmark Antutu crashes immediately after I try to run it. It’s a benchmark designed for testing x86 CPU performance, so my guess is that it stresses the emulation harder than typical applications.

There’s also been some issues with Microsoft Updates crashing as well. But that resolved itself over time.

Final Notes

I’ve only just begun to use the Lenovo Yoga for my “go to” laptop. The battery life is outstanding. And specifically, when I put it to sleep, and wake it up, hardly any battery life is lost, even after a couple of days. I don’t think it can completely replace my Surface Pro just yet, but it’s darn close. I’ll have more to report after CES 2019 (my own personal torture test for laptops).

Note: this article was written in Word on the Lenovo Yoga C630-13Q50 with 8GB of DRAM. The unit was sent to me by Qualcomm to evaluate and came preconfigured with a data SIM.

Kevin Krewell

Principal Analyst, TIRIAS Research

Twitter: @Krewell

The author and members of the TIRIAS Research staff do not hold equity positions in any of the companies mentioned. TIRIAS Research tracks and consults for companies throughout the electronics ecosystem from semiconductors to systems and sensors to the cloud.



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